Category Archives: Children’s books

Bronze and Sunflower

Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan, is a book about two young people growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. During that period of time, many artists were relocated to “Cadre Schools” (labor camps) in the countryside. Sunflower’s father was an artist, a sculptor that created beautiful bronze sunflowers, (he loved sunflowers and that’s why he named his daughter after them) and he was one of the artists that was removed from the city.

So Sunflower moved with her father, along with many other relocated city people, to the shores of a big river. Directly across the river was a small country village, and she watched the people, and especially the children, from the reed covered riverbank. When Sunflower’s father died, there was no place for her in the town, so some of the aunties in the town took her across the river to the village, and sat with her in the village square hoping that someone would take her in. There were two families in the village that showed an interest in “adopting” her. One was a wealthier family, but their son had been a bully to her. The other family was an impoverished family, and their son, Bronze, wanted Sunflower to become his sister. Bronze was a strong, kind, and  intelligent boy, but he was mute since a traumatic experience when he was younger. Sunflower had come to know him through interactions on the river bank, and when the decision as to which family would become her new family, she chose Bronze’s family.

And she became a dearly loved member of that family — a family that was poor, but with a huge heart. Life was not easy for this family, but they had great dignity and compassion, were hardworking and resilient, and they loved Sunflower deeply.

The story of this family facing the difficulties of poverty and famine, and the warm relationship between Sunflower and her new brother, Bronze, is both heartfelt and moving. Bronze protected her and kept her safe from the town bully; they worked together to help to grow and gather food for the family; Sunflower taught Bronze how to read and write (because he was mute, he was not allowed to go to school); and they shared the joys of being children of the countryside.

It is a lovely story. One reviewer said it should be considered for a Newbery honor, and I would agree with that idea. It certainly was an honest and heartfelt immersion into a different culture and time.

I recommend it highly.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This book was written by a much loved children’s book author from CHINA.

Misty Copeland: A Life in Motion

Being snowed-in during a quarantine is an interesting happening. We’ve had unusual snow and ice in the last week here in the greater Portland, Oregon, area, so hubby and I just hunkered down (more than usual) and withdrew into books, tv shows, and indoor projects. I spent my time with Misty Copeland, learning about her life through three books checked out of the online section of our library.

The first book was the young reader’s edition of Misty Copeland’s autobiography, Life in Motion: an unlikely ballerina. I had heard of Misty Copeland as a gifted ballerina, but I didn’t really know her story. This book was a very interesting way to get to know more about her, through her own words, and I enjoyed the experience. Not only is she an amazing ballerina, but she is an inspiration to and a role model for so many people, young and old.

From the publisher:

With an insider’s passion, Misty opens a window into the life of an artist who lives life center stage, from behind the scenes at her first classes to her triumphant roles in some of the world’s most iconic ballets. A sensational memoir as “sensitive” and “clear-eyed” (The Washington Post) as her dancing, Life in Motion is a story of passion, identity and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

There were not many people of color in ballet when Misty Copeland began her journey. Better said, there were very talented dancers of color, but not many ways to advance very far in the white world of ballet. She was a late-starter in ballet at age 13, but she was tremendously gifted, a prodigy, who excelled right from the beginning of her training. She was fortunate to have an early mentor/teacher who embraced her talent and nurtured her growth of confidence and pride of self.

“Most of the students at the San Pedro Dance Center were white, but I wasn’t the only child of color. A lot of people think that ballet dancers should all look the same: thin and delicate, with white skin. Cindy thought different shapes, colors, and sizes should be represented to reflect the variety of talent in the ballet world. I feel lucky to have been nurtured by someone so supportive of my differences so early in my career.”

Her drive and ambition to become the best she could be was integral to her career in dance. Her dream was to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and she worked fiercely toward that goal.

“I went back to my journal to write about ABT: I need to go in there and show them how good I am. I wasn’t ready to stop fighting my way to the top at ABT. Maybe I’d have to work ten times harder than anyone else because of my skin color, because I didn’t have the body they thought was ideal for ballet. If that’s what it took to become a principal dancer, I’d keep pushing myself. I couldn’t stop now. I’d given up so much to get here. I’d make them see that I deserved it—and more.”

But that drive and ambition was for more than herself. She was deeply appreciative of all those people ( white and people of color) who mentored her and helped her achieve her dreams. She talked in this book about them and about who she also included in her dream:

“If this could open doors for black women in ballet, that would mean the world to me, I penned in my diary. It would all be worth it. That’s what I’m doing this for. Not for my own pleasure and gratification. I need to remember this every morning I wake up tired, just think[ing] of what I could do, not just for me but [for] others.”

Her athleticism and artistry are extraordinary. I was completely enthralled when I watched clips on YouTube from some of her performances, and then I discovered that there was a movie of her called A Ballerina’s Tale. I look forward to watching that soon.

The other two books written by Misty that I checked out at the same time were Bunheads, a book on ballet for 5 to 8 year olds. It had wonderful illustrations and would please any young person interested in ballet.  The other book was Firebird, also written for young children. Both books encourage hard work and dedication as ways to become a dancer and also to build confidence in one’s self.

The temperatures here are warming up and the melting has started today. The snow and ice will be gone soon with the coming rain, but  thanks to Misty Copeland, I really enjoyed my time being snowed-in during this quarantine. (But I will be glad to be able to get out to the grocery store once again!)

 

 

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is an award winning book for young people. It won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming book, and I just wanted to take Bud (not Buddy) home with me.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

— This is what Bud’s mother told him about his name, and is why he always introduces himself as “Bud, not Buddy.”

Bud is an orphan, having lost his mother four years ago, and not knowing who his father was, he was placed in an orphanage. The time was during the depression; the place was Flint, Michigan; and an orphanage during that time was a miserable place to be. After being in the orphanage, and then experiencing an abusive foster home, Bud ran away and decided to try to find out who his father was from the clues his mother left behind. He carried those clues with him everywhere in a tattered old suitcase tied up with twine.

His first stop after running away was the library. The librarian had always been very kind to him, and he knew she would understand and help him. However, he discovered that she had gotten married and moved away, but the new librarian took him underwing and helped him figure out a walking route to Grand Rapids, where he thought his father might be, based on his mother’s clues.

Shucks, this is one of the bad things about talking to librarians, I asked one question and already she had us digging through three different books.

The twists and turns of how he finally got to a destination in Grand Rapids were fun to read, and quite adventurous. It was not easy for anyone to travel during that period of time, and it was especially dangerous for a young black boy to be traveling alone. But he met some Helpers along the way, and what awaited him in Grand Rapids was a new life, but not without twists and turns first.

If you didn’t have a real good imagination you’d probably think those noises were the sounds of some kid blowing a horn for the first time, but I knew better than that. I could tell those were the squeaks and squawks of one door closing and another one opening.

In the Afterword to the book, the author, Christopher Paul Curtis, talked about how he learned about this period of time and how he based some of the characters on his own grandfathers. He had a wonderful piece of advice for his readers:

Much of what I discovered about the depression I learned through research in books, which is a shame—I didn’t take advantage of the family history that surrounded me for many years. I’m afraid that when I was younger and my grandparents and parents would start to talk about their lives during the depression, my eyes would glaze over and I’d think, “Oh, no, not those boring tall tales again!” and I’d find the most convenient excuse I could to get away from them. Now I feel a real sorrow when I think of all the knowledge, wisdom and stories that have been forever lost with the deaths of my grandparents. Be smarter than I was: Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.

This is such an enjoyable book to read, especially during Black History Month, which this year focuses on families. Read it with your family, read it to your middle grade students, or read it by yourself on a snowy afternoon. It will warm your heart.

Bass Player, by La Shun Beal

Idia of the Benin Kingdom

Idia of the Benin Kingdom, by Ekiuwa Aire, is the first book in a new picturebook series for young children. The series is called “Our Ancestories,” and the stories will all be from African history and legends, with beautiful illustrations, and will be “free of the racial prejudice inherited from the slave trade and colonization.”

At Our Ancestories, we know that there is a deep divide between the truth of African history and the common understanding of it. We strive to bridge this gap through various means including stories, merchandise, and other informational content. Our desire is to make African history more mainstream filling a void that has been missing for years. We believe this will positively affect the modern generations in providing identity. Ultimately, we know that rediscovering African history will help create a better future.

In this first book, Idia is a young girl in the Benin Kingdom who loves to dance. She dreams one night of a queen leading and winning a battle, and after the battle, the queen helped the injured by using her healing powers using special herbs and potions. She was a great leader!

Idia never forgets that dream, and as she gets older, the dream guides her. She asks her father, a great warrior, to teach her the skills needed to become a warrior. He agrees if she promises never to stop having fun with her dancing. Later, she also asks her mother to teach her the healing skills of their people. Her mother thinks she is too young to learn those skills, but agrees to teach Idia about medicine and magic if she does her chores every day.

Idia grew up with all these wonderful skills, but it was her beautiful dancing that caught the eye of the King, and he asked her to marry him. Idia remembered again her childhood dream, and realized that she was the “queen” in that dream, and her son she would have would also to be a King. So she agreed to marry, and in doing so, she became “a queen, a warrior, the first woman to fight for the kingdom, and the first lyoba (Queen Mother) of Benin.

This was a fun book to read, and beautifully illustrated! I highly recommend that parents and teachers share it with the children and students! 

I chose this book to read for two of my personal challenges. It was a great choice for my “Wanderlust challenge” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Benin.

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It also was a great choice to read for my Antiracist Education challenge. 

 

The Reluctant Dragon

 

The Reluctant Dragon, by Kenneth Grahame, is another classic I chose to read for my 50-classics-in-5-years challenge for The Classics Club. I downloaded the audiobook version from Audible, narrated by Anton Lesser, and absolutely loved listening to it! The narration was so much fun, and the story truly is a wonderful old classic. I would love to listen to it again while on a road trip (ahh…some day we’ll be able to do that again!). The story is a fun twist on the Medieval story of Saint George and the Dragon. But in this sweet and gentle story, the dragon is a completely non-violent and friendly creature, with a great interest in poetry.

From the publisher:

…a young boy befriends a poetry-loving dragon living in the Downs above his home. When the town-folk send for St. George to slay the dragon, the boy needs to come up with a clever plan to save his friend and convince the townsfolk to accept him.

A favorite quote from the book:

“You see all the other fellows were so active and earnest and all that sort of thing- always rampaging, and skirmishing, and scouring the desert sands, and pacing the margin of the sea, and chasing knights all over the place, and devouring damsels, and going on generally- whereas I liked to get my meals regular and then to prop my back against a bit of rock and snooze a bit, and wake up and think of things going on and how they kept going on just the same, you know!”

The wonderful artist, E. H. Shepard was the illustrator of the original publication.

 

The author, Kenneth Grahame, also wrote the timeless classic, The Wind in the Willows. Another classic that is most enjoyable to read or listen to in audiobook form!

Both of these books are fun and timeless classics for the whole family!

Classics Club Spin #25: Heidi

Although I didn’t post my list earlier for the Classics Club Spin #25, I did read the book that corresponded to the number chosen. That book was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. It was another book I had missed reading when I was growing up. Of course, I loved the movie starring Shirley Temple, but for some reason, I never read the book. I do love going back and reading the books I missed over the years!  And this book was a sweet one.

Summary from the publisher:

When Heidi, a cheerful 5-year-old orphan, comes to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, she brings a bright ray of sunshine into the lives of the people around her. Young Peter, a goatherd, shares her love of nature, and his blind grandmother delights in the little girl’s bubbling personality. Even Heidi’s surly and hermit-like grandfather, the old Alm-Uncle, finds his long-lost grandchild a source of immense pleasure.

A few years later, when she is forced go to Frankfurt to serve as a companion for Klara, a well-to-do but sickly girl, Heidi must leave her beloved mountains and friends behind—an experience that proves highly traumatic to the innocent and sensitive little girl. But her return home and a visit from Klara result in magical moments that will leave young readers thoroughly captivated by this heartwarming tale of an unforgettable child and her effect on the people around her.

Some favorite quotes from the book:

    • Let’s enjoy the beautiful things we can see, my dear, and not think about those we cannot.”
    • The fire in the evening was the best of all. Peter said is wasn’t fire, but he couldn’t tell me what it really was.  You can though, Grandfather, can’t you?’  ‘It’s the sun’s way of saying goodnight to the mountains’ he explained. ‘He spreads that beautiful light over them so that they won’t forget him till he comes back in the morning.

And some teacher humor that caught my eye:

“My tutor is very kind, and never cross, and he will explain everything to you. But mind, when he explains anything to you, you won’t be able to understand; but don’t ask any questions, or else he will go on explaining and you will understand less than ever. Later when you have learnt more and know about things yourself, then you will begin to understand what he meant.”

As I said before, it was a sweet book. Heidi was one of those wonderfully strong, free-spirited, deeply caring girls that I loved to read about in stories like  Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it…and now I’d like to find the Shirley Temple movie and watch it again!

 

Heidi was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust: Reading the World,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based in Switzerland.

The Time Garden

What Ann was thinking was that maybe this summer would turn out to be a wonderful magic one like the summer before. It had a lot of magic-seeming things in it already — parents being called away and four children sent to stay in an old house by the sea. Lots of magic adventures in books started out that way.

Many years ago, I read a fun fantasy novel for middle grade students. It was called Half Magic, by Edward Eager, and was the first in a series of books that are full of fun and magic and are a delight to read. I kept Half Magic in my class library for my sixth grade students to enjoy. Just recently, I read the 4th book in the series, and it was just as delightful. It was called The Time Garden, and had very interesting magic in it, too.

from the publisher:

But you can’t find magic just anywhere. It doesn’t grow like grass. It requires the right place and the right time . . . Or thyme, as the case may be. At Mrs. Whiton’s house, magic grows as wild as the banks of thyme in the garden. Growing there is olden time, future time, and common time. Or so says the Natterjack, the toadlike creature who accompanies the children on a series of hilarious, always unpredictable adventures. “Anything can happen,” the Natterjack says, “when you have all the time in the world.”

Four children, sent to stay with “old Mrs. Whiton” for the summer, had four amazing adventures in time. By picking a different type of Thyme from a magical Thyme garden, the children were able to travel through time to four different locations and time periods. One adventure was to visit young Louisa May Alcott because they loved the books she would eventually write! As with all the books in this series by Edward Eager, the magic is complicated and makes for an even more interesting adventure. 

It’s a sweet novel, a wonderful summer read for young or old.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. The author of this book was from Ohio.

Books to Start Important Conversations With Children

I have always loved reading children’s books, and so I am now exploring the wealth of books on  diversity that are available to teach the Black and Brown experience to children. These books were checked out of my library’s e-book collection, and I’m very happy to say that they are being read by a lot of people right now! That fills me with hope! I enjoyed reading them and will post a mini-review of each one. They are all really good, and some are real treasures, like Nikki Giovanni’s poems.

I Am Loved, by Nikki Giovanni.

A beautiful little book of poems. The illustrations and the poems were beautiful and moving.

from the publisher:

There is nothing more important to a child than to feel loved, and this gorgeous gathering of poems written by Nikki Giovanni celebrates exactly that. Hand-selected by Newbery honoree Ashley Bryan, he has, with his masterful flourish of color, shape, and movement, added a visual layering that drums the most impartant message of all to young, old, parent, child, grandparent, and friend alike: You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. As a bonus, one page is mirrored, so children reading the book can see exactly who is loved—themselves!

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh

This was an historical happening that I had never heard about, but it is an important story to read with children when talking about segregation.

from the publisher:

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

A Kids Book About Racism, by Jelani Memory

This little picture book, written by a Portland, Oregon, author, is a great way to start conversations with children about racism. It is powerful in it’s simple, straightforward language and information.

from the publisher:

Yes, this really is a kids book about racism. Inside, you’ll find a clear description of what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it, and how to spot it when it happens.

This is one conversation that’s never too early to start, and this book was written to be an introduction for kids on the topic.

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss

This is a powerful book about the difficulty of traveling for families of color back in the 1950s. A good way to start the conversation about Jim Crow laws and how things have, or have not, changed since that time.

from the publisher:

Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family’s new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that black travelers weren’t treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws . . .

Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth’s family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers. With this guidebook―and the kindness of strangers―Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma’s house in Alabama.

Almost to Freedom, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Colin Bootman

This was a very moving story about the Underground Railroad.

from the publisher:

Lindy and her doll Sally are best friends – wherever Lindy goes, Sally stays right by her side. They eat together, sleep together, and even pick cotton together. So, on the night Lindy and her mama run away in search of freedom, Sally goes too. This young girl’s rag doll vividly narrates her enslaved family’s courageous escape through the Underground Railroad. At once heart-wrenching and uplifting, this story about friendship and the strength of the human spirit will touch the lives of all readers long after the journey has ended.

If you haven’t read any of these little books, I highly recommend them for parents and grandparents to read with their loved ones, and for teachers to start important discussions with their students (of all ages). The conversations they inspire would be heartfelt.

Deep in the Sahara

Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by Hoda Hadadi, is the story of a young Mauritanian girl named Lalla. She desperately wants to wear a malafa like her mother, her older sister, and her grandmother. But a malafa is not to be worn until a young girl understands why they are worn.

from the publisher:

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to show a woman’s beauty and mystery or to honor tradition—a malafa for faith—that Lalla’s mother agrees to slip a long cloth as blue as the ink in the Koran over Lalla’s head, under her arm, and round and round her body. Then together, they pray.

This was such a sweet and interesting story with beautiful illustrations. I didn’t know much about Mauritania, except that it is a West African nation. And I didn’t know much about the practice of Islam there, or the customs of dress, so this was an interesting learning for me. It would be a wonderful addition to a class library or a family’s collection of books on diversity and world cultures. Here is a photo of the author’s notes on writing this story, which I thought were as interesting as the book itself! (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a story from Mauritania.